I had mentioned before that a friend of ours was visiting us in Milano, Marisa. She had wanted to check out Nice, France while out here and booked a hotel along the Mediterranean for us to stay at. Christine, not knowing if she had to take a required class trip or not, but later found out that it was mandatory. So Marisa and I set out on a three and a half train ride to the border of Italy and France, passing through the familiar city of Imperia and Monte Carlo, and ending up in Nice.
I had come real close to canceling the trip with her for medical reasons. The night before we had gone out to dinner with a handful of Christine’s classmates to celebrate the birthday of Marianna. It was at a small restaurant and the waiter was talking so fast in Italian, and foot was getting passed around family style and it was the beginning to what was looking like a very good time. And it wasn’t until I tried a ravioli that had Truffles in it. I have a bad history with truffles. I had an allergic reaction a few years ago, when I ate some fries from bad apple that had truffle oil on them. My chest tightens up, my throat gets swollen and it becomes difficult for me to breathe. I had a feeling that the truffle oil was the cause of it, but never got an allergy test. So, wanting to to enjoy everything that comes along, I took a bite of it with a YOLO kinda attitude. big mistake. After about 20 minutes, I felt like I really needed to get outside and get some air, all the symptoms I had mentioned earlier had started and I was freaking out a little bit due to being in such a confined solace of the restaurant. Christine had tried to help me out and asks me what I needed, and air was a start, I decided I would try and go back in to see how things panned out, it wasn’t really that bad yet. So I drank a ton of water, breathed and tried to start my veal dinner, but every bite that I gummed down, and tried to swallow was becoming more and more difficult to swallow without having to wash it down with water. Then my body starts to freak out, I ask our friend Ale to take me to the hospital, so Christine, Marisa, Ale and I take off to the hospital.
Nice thing about Italian hospitals. The service is free… I think.. I went in, filled out some general information, Ale was speaking perfect Italian translating what I was saying, and they took me in right away. I think the mention that I was American was also a factor for getting me in so quickly. I explained my symptoms to two different nurses, and they got me into see the doctor. The doctor had checked out my throat, listened to my breathing and decided that a shot of hydro-cortisone into my bicep muscle would be a slow release and help my symptoms, while a less potent dose into my forearm would provide comfort on a faster level to get things back to normal. He also prescribed me to some antihistamines that I can get from the Pharmacy, if my symptoms kept up. After the little incident, I was expecting to get a bill or for them to ask for my insurance card, but no. Nothing. The trip to the doctor for immediate care at 1130pm cost me nothing, and they were all very knowledgeable and nice. I guess this country also cares about an individuals well being and not the big business of healthcare and insurance. So this little stint left me wondering if I would be alright for the next days adventures. I figured why not, I was already feeling tip-top when I left the hospital, and the next morning when we all woke up, I felt great.
When we arrived in Nice, I had discovered that Marisa had booked an amazing hotel along the coast, with a room that overlooked the sea. The weather was perfect at this time, and not ever being in the country of France, only passing through the sliver that surrounds Monte Carlo, I was eager to see what this region of france was like. When I think of the French Riviera, I immediately get taken back to the Rolling Stones, renting a mansion on the Riviera and having drug parties and writing hit records. I knew it was nothing like this now, but I always pictured it much smaller than what it actually is.
In actuality, it is one big tourist city. Flocks of Asian tourists on tours with guides, all holding umbrellas and camcorders, recording every possible moment, European and middle eastern languages of passer-buyers, coming from every different direction, a whole melting pot of people from all over the world to get their own little piece of paradise on the Mediterranean. The whole main street reminds me of a wealthier, cleaner, not as drunk or trashy Las Vegas. There are only two Casinos which we passed, but in front of every hotel there is a sign for their restaurant offering the best three-course meal at the lowest price on its “tourist menu”. Going three or four blocks in will get you into some very quite and boring streets with little to see and little to explore, and going up to Old Town is a disaster because of the amount of tourist foot traffic you run into. The beaches are beautiful and if you are into sunbathing and getting served cocktails by the seaside, then this is your place. Being an urban explorer, all the doors I wasn’t supposed to go into just took me into cardiologists offices were old women were going in and out of. I did stumble into a Tuesday mass going on in a church, and took in a little bit of the service. Not being too much of a religious man, I waited for the service to end, and came back to take a photo of the interior.
I will say that the food in this area is quite amazing. I found a small bakery that made amazing croissants and stopped in there for two days for breakfast. Also, I particularly like what I have been calling window sandwiches, which are sandwiches made on baguettes and displayed in the window for passerby’s, One was a Mozzarella, ham, tomato and balsamic, with these little things that looked like sundered tomatoes, another with just ham, Swiss cheese and mayo. Both very very good.
On our first day there, we were famished from traveling on three different trains, so we checked in, dropped off our luggage, and set out to find whatever was available for us to eat. One problem. When getting into the room, we had found that there was only one large bed. This would not fly for either of us. She had specifically asked for separate beds. We just aren’t like that. So we called down to the concierge, explained the situation and they told us that they would take care of it. So we decided to go out and get some food while we had some time to kill while they fixed the room. We walked down and asked the concierge about where to get some food and he warned us that this was a very bad time to try and eat in France, Kitchens close and don’t open until dinner. OK, well we aren’t going to sit here and starve, point us in a direction and we will deal with the failure as we go, please. We take off on foot, down a block, and over a block onto a pedestrian street lined with bizarres, stores, cafes and restaurants. First stop? Love Cafe, sure, seat us, let us seat ourselves, waiter comes out, we order food, sorry kitchen is closed. Come on man, its like 430pm. Whatever, cancel our coke, we’re taking off. Next stop… Who knows what the name of this place is, “is the kitchen open?”, “ah yes, yes”… they have two different street signs with two different menus and they hand us another menu. Cool, we’ll both take the hamburgers. Anything at this point before I start to chew off my hand. Burgers came, burgers got digested, nothing more to see there. Wait. The burger was very excellent with a slice of Brie cheese and ham on it. Enough about that and our super cute waitress. Marisa wanted to walk around and find some French stuff, I wanted to go back to the room to rest my head. But when I got back to the room, the bed issue had not been address, leaving me wondering, am I going to have to make an angry phone call, or what? Just then, there came a wrapping at my hotel room door, I opened up the door and maid service had arrived asking me about the issue with the bed. This older Filipina woman entered and started apologizing for the mix up and she was running around the room getting things in order. I asked her, “are you Filipina” and she said “yes” and I explained that I was half Filipino and she starts laughing and we immediately start to converse about my mothers side, where our families are from, how she ended up in Nice.
Her story is, she came to Nice in 2000 on an amnesty visa. She had been in Iran since the 80′s working at a hotel or for a residence, that part was unclear to me. But things were beginning to change in Iran, so she and her friend decided to try out France. She had been happily employed by the hotel company since and she plans on staying, because the biggest benefit was that she lived close enough to walk to and from work. Her shift was from 430 to 830. We talked about Filipino food and she had an amazing laugh and smile. Her personality and background reminded me a lot of my Tita Susan. She too worked in the middle east for quite some time before coming to the US in the late 90′s and becoming a care taker. I talked about my mother and my siblings and she had told me that my mother had raised me in a very respectful Filipino manner and I most definitely agreed with her. Before leaving I took her portrait, and blessed her hand, as any young Filipino does to their elders, she gave me three pieces of nugget, and told me that I had to drink the coffee with the coffee maker in the room, because it was good, and it was free. Her name is Dominga Coloma. I’m a big fan of hers. I asked her if she was on Facebook or if she had email so I can give her a copy of the photos and she had no idea what I was talking about. All of this while I was actually helping her change out the beds. How would they expect one elderly Filipino woman to take care of all that on her own?
When she was done, I tried to lay down, but I just couldn’t so I went out for a walk, heading into the older part of town. I was about 30 seconds too late of seeing a scooter rider bite it in the busy street and how the hotel valet staff and other scooter riders were pitching in to help block oncoming traffic. It looked like he was disoriented but alive, so that’s a good thing. I just did some general exploring, found a few grocery stores, and headed back to the hotel room, where Marisa already was. Looks like she found some desserts and did some shopping. We talked about getting some dinner and just ended up eating at the restaurant in the hotel for convenience. I had some kind of chopped chicken entree with potatoes carrots and onions, kinda like a stew. Not too bad, nothing to go too far into explanation about. We headed over to the hotel next to ours, Hotel Negresso. This is an infamous hotel in Nice, the only hotel in Nice still owned by a french owner, a 92 year old woman who had run it after her husband, the original owner and founder had passed away. She had taken it to a whole new level over the years, hosting all the celebrities throughout time including the beetles, Sofia Lauren, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. The decor and furniture in the hotel spans so many generations that its like a fancy weird upper class thrift store. Art work on the walls of the first floor span centuries, and furniture from every decade. The grand ballroom is grand, and the restaurant is decorated and modeled after a carousal. It really is way out there. We snuck around from floor to floor, examining the artwork on all the hallway walls. Each hallway on each floor is set up as an exhibit, with genres like contemporary, modern, African art, and even a specific wall with all Salvador Dali artwork. We must have spent an hour and a half going down each hall, being as quite as we can, knowing that we are in the halls of residents who are renting rooms. What an amazing hotel. Although I can imagine the rooms to be that modern or up to date with the times.
The next day, Marisa had plans to lay out and kick it beach side, while I had planned on checking out more of the city. I hit the bakery, got some breakfast, then set out by foot. Explored a little, found a church, went into a cardiologists office, only because it looked like a building worth exploring from the outside, inside not so much. Saw a few dogs wondering out of their owners shops, ate some sandwiches, explored the market, saw a fountain, and that’s basically it. I should’ve took pictures of all the tourists because that is mostly what I saw. I ended up going back to the room to meet up with Marisa, and I ended up falling asleep. Its amazing how the waves of the sea mixed with traffic can put you down so easy. When I came to, Marisa had called the room and said she was done with her pedicure and if I wanted to meet with her for dinner. “Sure thing”, I said, and we met down in the streets, at Love Cafe, where we first got turned down for service… Again, they turned us down for service, with the kitchen being closed. So we went across the street to a smaller restaurant which was a good choice.
I wish I remebered the name of it, something french, but I don’t. What good I am. Basically the only thing on the menu that I could understand were the different variations of steaks that they offered. So we each ordered a different one, and wished for the best.
I feel like I’m a boring writer at this point so I’m going to wrap it up. Dinner was excellent. Crashed out that night and woke up to pack and take the train home. Train ride was long, but stopped in a cool little layover town called Ventimiglia. If I were to do this trip again, I’d stay in Ventimiglia and take day trips to Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo, and spend a full day in each of these cities. They are all stops along the same train line. Nice is cool if you want to be a tourist and lay out on the pebbly beaches with other tourists. Its not a place to go to to get the deep cuts of French lifestyle and cuisine. It’s a good experience but maybe three days in one spot was too much.